POLYPORE PAPER: We can find, prod, pick, examine and in many cases even eat mushrooms but for this program we’ll be making mushroom paper! Together we take a short hike to collect polypores like Turkeytail Mushroom and crust fungi like False Turkey tail found on dead oaks. We’ll use blenders to make mushroom pulp and turn it into paper. The cell walls of fungi are made of a biological polymer called chitin, which is a similar to cellulose—the key ingredient in plant-based paper.
Together we took a short hike to collect the many polypores (and crust fungi like False Turkey tail) on a dead oak tree. The students cut them off with scissors and filled buckets. Back inside we snipped the mushrooms into tiny pieces and placed them in a blender with a bit of newspaper to help bind all the material together. The pulp was poured into a small tub so that screens could be dipped under and covered. The pulp covered screens were then flipped onto newspaper and sponged and squeezed many times until the sponge no longer absorbed water from the pulp. The mushroom paper is then left to dry overnight on the newspaper until it peels off. Once peeled it can be used as is or cut up into bookmarks, greetings cards or any other uses.
The word polypore means many openings, when you find a turkeytail or other polypore look closely on the fruiting body of the mushroom for the spore tubes on the underside that allow for reproduction (True turkey tail has 3–8 pores per millimeter – you can compare that space to that of a pen tip). Millions of spores can be produced by one fruiting body. The rest of the mushroom is the hyphae that have penetrated the cells of the host (tree) for nutrients/lignin that is locked up in the wood. You do not need to worry about picking the mushrooms, when you pick the fruiting body you do not destroy the organism, it is similar to picking an apple from a tree. The new fruiting bodies appear in June and then dry up by late wintertime. Mushrooms are safe to touch, for the record according to Steve Brill, “no mushroom has ever attacked a person, even when provoked”.
David Alexander is a professional outdoor guide and conservation biologist. He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com